Facing the Second Winter at War
As the bitter cold of winter descends upon Ukraine, its people and military prepare for their second winter at war. The bold campaigns of the previous year, which saw significant territorial gains in Kharkiv and Kherson, have now receded into distant memories. The challenges ahead are daunting, but Ukraine remains resolute in its quest to defend its sovereignty.
Adapting to Intense Attrition
Ukraine’s military finds itself in a protracted war of attrition against stubborn and numerically superior Russian forces. Spanning nearly 1,000 kilometers of contested territory, the frontlines are marked by tension, conflict, and a constant struggle for control. The Ukrainian military, however, is no stranger to adversity and remains determined to defend its land.
The scarcity of air power presents a significant obstacle, and the coming winter threatens to disrupt offensive operations. As the snow and ice blanket the landscape, maneuverability will be hampered, and the Ukrainian military must adapt to these challenging conditions.
Russian Threats to Ukraine’s Energy Infrastructure
The Russians, aware of Ukraine’s vulnerability, are likely to launch another campaign aimed at crippling Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. This could lead to a harsh winter for the Ukrainian people, with power shortages and darkness looming. The Russian commitment to this conflict is evident in their plans to allocate a defense budget for the upcoming year that is 70% higher than the current year.
The Evolution of Ukrainian Warfare
Ukraine’s approach to warfare has undergone a transformation. Initially, there was a rush to adopt Western technology, with hopes of rapidly forming cohesive fighting units. However, lessons learned on the battlefield have led to a return to a style of warfare deeply ingrained in Ukrainian military tradition. Small, nimble groups of mobile infantry are now being employed to test entrenched Russian defenses.
This strategic shift not only aligns with Ukrainian strengths but also mitigates the challenges posed by winter weather. As the landscape becomes mired in mud and obscured by mist, maneuvering large mechanized forces becomes increasingly difficult. The adaptation to smaller, more agile units minimizes these weather-related impediments.
The “Starve, Stretch, and Strike” Strategy
The UK’s defense staff has aptly labeled Ukraine’s strategy as “starve, stretch, and strike.” The focus of this approach is on disrupting Russian supply lines and degrading the capabilities of the Black Sea Fleet. While much of the striking is currently done from a distance, it remains an effective strategy in the face of winter’s challenges.
Focusing on Crimea and Long-Range Attacks
The Crimean peninsula remains a consistent target in Ukraine’s strategy. The goal is to disrupt Russian supply lines and degrade the Black Sea Fleet’s capabilities. Long-range artillery and drone attacks play a pivotal role in achieving these objectives.
Ukraine’s arsenal is set to receive a significant boost with the expected introduction of German long-range Taurus missiles and US Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMs). These weapons will further enhance Ukraine’s ability to target critical Russian logistics nodes and infrastructure, including bridges and fortified command centers situated far behind the front lines.
Challenges and Hopes for the Future
The conflict in Ukraine may extend well into 2025, and both sides are preparing for the challenges of the coming winter. Western support remains crucial to Ukraine’s resilience, but there are signs of fatigue among its allies. Doubts and disagreements simmer within the international community regarding the extent of support Ukraine should receive.
The political landscape within Ukraine and among its allies will play a pivotal role in shaping the conflict’s future. Ukraine’s recent dispute with the Polish government over grain exports highlights its vulnerability to shifting political dynamics among its allies.
As the winter months settle in, both sides must navigate the mud, frost, and mist that characterize this harsh season. The complexities of the conflict, coupled with evolving strategies and external factors, ensure that the road ahead remains uncertain.